The media emphasis on the capture of Saddam Hussein repeats one of the fundamental mistakes made by successive U.S. administrations: that Hussein is Iraq. Iraq — as the peace movement has been saying, and as the U.S. occupiers and media are only beginning to discover — is a vast and complex country, and Hussein's capture does not retroactively justify the invasion and occupation. Neither does it mean that Ba'athist underpinnings of the resistance to the occupation have been dismantled or that Iraq will come to love the U.S. occupiers — or that the resistance will end.
His capture might mean, however, that the cause of international justice will be served. Whether that happens will depend on what the United States does with its captive, and whether the Pentagon and the Bush administration become willing to conform to established norms of international law.
- The capture by no means justifies the invasion and occupation of Iraq
The only possible legal justification for invasion would have been if the Iraqi government had possessed weapons of mass destruction, and if their threat to use such weapons constituted a clear and present danger to the international community, and if peaceful means of resolving the crisis were inadequate. Had all those conditions prevailed, invasion would have been a matter for the U.N. Security Council. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell argued that those conditions did obtain when he spoke to the Security Council on February 5, 2003; eleven of the fifteen SC members rejected his argument. The United States never brought the matter to a vote before leading an invasion itself. For a U.S. invasion without Security Council authorization to be legal, it would have to have been proven that Iraq posed a clear and present danger to the United States itself, an assertion that is simply unsustainable.
No weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, even after months of well-financed inspections by the U.S. occupying forces. We have statements from inspectors that WMD did not exist in Iraq or if they did, not in sufficient quantities to threaten even their neighbors, let alone the United States. Given the technological sophistication of U.S. intelligence, there is a strong case that the United States knew all along that there were no such weapons.
Some legal theorists have suggested that a case might exist for humanitarian intervention by U.N. forces, but there has been no legal precedent set. In fact, the last several years have seen a number of U.S. invasions for "humanitarian" reasons that were decidedly extra-legal. (We note, too, that none of those theorists called for humanitarian intervention while the U.N. sanctions were devastating Iraq and killing hundreds of Iraqis.)
The War Resisters League and others committed to nonviolence hold that military activity is never justified. In the particular case of Iraq, certainly, plunging an entire country into chaos for the sake of removing one man can be seen as disproportionate even by those who justify war.
- Hussein's capture does not mean that the Ba'athist infrastructure has been removed
On the contrary, the United States has supported the preservation of Hussein's governance structure and has hired back hundreds of Hussein's Mukhabarat — his feared secret police — to assist in crushing opposition to the occupation. Milan Rai's book Regime Unchanged shows how the United States has appointed "second level" Ba'athists to assume the positions vacated by their immediate bosses.
- The capture will not make Iraq love its occupiers.
We must be careful of interpreting anti-Hussein sentiments in Iraq. The televised images of Iraqis celebrating are extreme close-ups of the same few people, repeatedly looped in 20-second segments. And even if the Iraqis are justifiably happy in being rid of a tyrant, that does not mean that they are in favor of being occupied. Nor can we fully understand the cultural impact of showing a humiliated Saddam Hussein on TV. This may discourage some, and infuriate others.
- Thus, the capture almost certainly will not end armed resistance to the U.S. occupation
Hussein, disheveled, bewildered, and hiding incommunicado in a hole, was clearly not masterminding the attacks. All reports from commanders in the field indicate that the attacks are locally organized.
Further, the War Resisters League believes that the capture of one man — even one as significant as Saddam Hussein — does not address the fundamental causes of the attacks, and that true peace will come to Iraq from greater justice, not more military activity. The increasing impoverishment of ordinary Iraqis must be reversed: clean water, electricity, food, medical facilities and schools must be returned to them immediately. Their looted national heritage must be sought out and recovered. The occupiers must stop invading their homes, bulldozing their farms and neighborhoods, humiliating their families, imprisoning suspects without recourse to legal means in camps closed to human rights workers. The large-scale looting of Iraq by companies like Bechtel, Halliburton, DynCorp and other friends of the Bush administration must cease, and the country and its resources be returned to the Iraqi people.
If Hussein's capture will bring about none of those results, what good can come of it?
Certainly, as believers in and advocates for nonviolent solutions to conflicts, the War Resisters League hopes for a speedy and fair trial for the ex-dictator — or perhaps more than one. We believe Iraq has a right to try him for crimes against its people — and that the international community has a duty to try him for crimes against humanity. In the former case, we would hope that a trial would represent the interests of all the Iraqi people, not those who speak as U.S. appointees. As for a war crimes trial before an international tribunal, we would hope that the appointed tribunal had enough scope to prosecute those powers outside Iraq — most notably in the United States — that helped instigate and maintain Hussein's power.
December 16, 2003